Every year about this time, I start to notice my students getting bored with the same usual math centers. That means I need to go online and start hunting down new math center ideas to find something that will hold their interest, but also teach them a thing or two about math. That’s when I decided it was time to create a list! In fact, I have a list of 20 math center ideas to share with you – and they aren’t just specific games of mine to purchase (as you sometimes see on the internet). They are activities you can implement without any purchase of my products – for any concept! Bonus!
20 Math Center Ideas for your Elementary Classroom
1.) Card Games. Most classrooms have at least one set of cards, but if not, you can find them at the dollar store. There are a variety of games you can have your students play and still practice their math concepts. For instance, remove the face cards and the aces and then have students play any variation of top-it. Divide the set of cards up evenly among the pair of students; 2 students each flip a card at once and perform whichever operation you prefer (add, subtract, multiply). The first student to say the correct answer first gets both cards. Students keep going until there are no cards left. The student with the most cards wins!
You can also take a set of 3″x5″ index cards and cut them in half creating mini-cards. Then program them to be any set of numbers you wish. Then students can perform any operation, play a game of go fish, play rummy (place them in order), or any other fun game!
2.) Dice Games. I really can’t mention card games without mentioning dice games as one of the math center ideas. Just like with card games, you can find dice at the dollar store, but you can also create your own using wooden blocks. I like to do this to program them with fractions or decimals. Then I have students play games such as adding the numbers and seeing how close they can get to one without going over.
3.) Bowling Math Centers. This math center idea is sure to delight your students! Using paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, or even plastic water bottles you can create bowling pins with numbers on them. If you cover them with packaging tape, you can wipe the numbers off for reuse again and again. Students can then bowl to add the pins knocked down. This makes a great center for fractions, large numbers, decimals, and you could use it for elapsed time. In the past I have even placed task cards on them and students had to complete the pins they knocked down. It’s definitely engaging! You can read more about it here.
4.) Journaling. What student couldn’t use a little extra practice writing in math? I believe they all could. Provide students with a writing prompt related to whatever you are working on in math. It doesn’t need to be fancy; You could write it on an index card, or have it in strips for students to glue into their math journal. They then respond in their journal. Students could respond to a question such as, “What is a fraction?” It doesn’t need to be complicated. You’re basically having students explain math in their own words. You could even include a portion where they can illustrate it.
5.) Craftivities. Every once in a while, why not consider creating a craftivity for your center activity? This could be anything from the simple construction of a mobile or model of a product. Students enjoy hands-on activities and it’s a great way to learn.
6.) Manipulatives. Manipulatives are a great way to make math more concrete, especially with difficult concepts. Place manipulatives in a center with some directions, and students can practice over and over until they really have the concept down.
7.) Technology. There are a lot of great apps and websites out there that really help students practice both math skills and math test prep. I’ve mentioned many websites in my blog post, 5 Great Math Apps for Grades 3-5. There are also great websites like the Math Playground, IXL, MobyMax, and Reflex. There are even free sites that students can access from home such as AAA Math, Cool Math, and Fun Brain.
8.) Reading Literature. Create a center that integrates both reading and math. For instance, you could use any of Greg Tang’s Books, such as The Grapes Of Math, or his problem solving riddle book, Math-ter Pieces: The Art of Problem Solving. These are full of math riddles that students solve, while enjoying reading too! Another fun one is The Math Curse. There are so many great options out there related to both literature and math!
9.) Math Sorts. These can be created easily with a computer or index cards. You can also just purchase them. Students can easily sort math based on similarities or attributes, such as in my Polygon Sort below.
10.) Practice Sheets. Of course you can use regular worksheets to help students practice the math concepts you are teaching, but you can also use these sheets to remediate, reteach, review, or even enrich. There is nothing wrong with a “Stay at Your Seat” kind of center.
11.) Problem Solving. Why not create a center that is solely based on problem solving? My students struuuuuuugggggglllle with problem solving. So they could definitely use some extra practice. This center provides the perfect opportunity for that. Do you know that appendix section in the common core standards? They provide you with examples of different types of problems you could create. Go from there. Or, start the first few weeks off with the students creating the problems first and trading papers to check each other’s work. Then create some yourself. You can also mimic the ones in your textbook. Step it up a notch by throwing in some error analysis once in a while.
12.) Interactive Bulletin Boards. I love creating them, but I will admit, it sometimes requires a little time and thought on your part – but you can definitely do them! Back around Halloween, I created this one made of a haunted house. On the outside of the windows, ghosts, and other objects were the math problems, on the inside were the self-checking answers. It was a great center (and is also perfect for early finishers). (Note: The image below was set up on a tri-board.)
Another interactive bulletin board I have created in the past was Math-no-poly. It was something I created for an end of the year review. My students really enjoyed it and it helped us focus on what we still needed to learn.
These math center ideas were definitely a blast!
13.) Math Stretchers. I talked a little about Math Stretchers in my Math Workshop Series. This is a form of a math warm up that can be used for any of the math categories. It’s a great way to prepare the student’s brain for the math they are about to encounter and to start thinking about math more in their everyday life. This can be something as simple as collecting data each day regarding lunch or focusing on the number of the day.
14.) Calendar. I have always loved using the calendar portion in math workshop, even in the upper grades. Yes, even in fifth grade. Yes, even if I didn’t have the official kit or book. I got creative. I just focused on what my students needed to know and found a way to integrate it in each day. You create small square pieces with patterns that change daily around a common theme, such as angles, polygons, fractions, etc. You can create nearly anything! The point is to gather students around and get them talking about math based on the math they are surrounded with in their daily lives.
15.) Interactive Notebook Pieces. Interactive notebook pieces are not just a waste of time if you do them correctly. Students can actually use them to help remember important information and to practice solving problems. They can also be very engaging. For instance, Have students list all the multiples out on individual “French Fries” for each number and put them inside a French Fry box (envelope glued in their notebook).
16.) Regular Math Center Games. There are lots of games you can purchase in Teacher Stores, on Teachers Pay Teachers, or even make that can help reinforce a concept. I really help understand the importance of Game-Based Learning and provide 5 tips to using them in the classroom here.
17.) Vocabulary. Consider creating a math center that provides your students with the opportunity to practice the important vocabulary of the concepts you are working on. This can include a personal word wall, a class word wall, or just a list of words you have been learning. Student can complete any vocabulary activity. There are many blog posts here on this blog that provide you with engaging activities to do. Just search vocabulary over in the search bar on the right.
18.) Task Cards. Task cards do not have to be a whole group activity. You can provide students with a set of task cards to work on in stations or have them move around within their group. I have even placed task cards around the room that they quietly had to move to while the others worked. You don’t necessarily have to do the entire set either. If you don’t want to purchase any, don’t. Take a worksheet, cut each individual question out and glue them to index cards. Viola! Task cards!
19.) Real World Math. Students really need to see math in the context of the real world. Why not make one of your math center ideas a real world math center? This can be a range of math centers, from current events, to STEM. For current events, have students find examples in the current events that use whatever concept you are working on. This is not limited to social studies. You could have students complete a “mini-stem” project, a project based learning activity, or even just an activity related to real-life, such as planning for a family Bar-B-Que.
20.) Fact Fluency. Students really need to practice their basic facts in nearly every grade. They need to memorize them. The best way to memorize them is with constant practice. That is where this center comes in! Provide students with lots of opportunities to learn and practice their basic facts. This can be done in the form of activities (such as with my Math Workshop Shortcuts Unit), games, flashcards, math fact practice, or other engaging activity.
With these 20 math center ideas, you are sure to find something to keep your students from getting bored and to keep them hooked on math!
Are you looking for engaging math centers for your students that you can purchase to save yourself some planning time? Check out my centers and games here.
What are your favorite math center activities?